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How to Write a Great Plot Twist

Alessandra Torre, NYTimes Bestselling author and Inkers Con Co-founder

A great plot twist will leave a reader stunned, their jaw working open and closed in disbelief as their mind works frantically to connect pieces of a puzzle they weren’t aware of until now.

It’s a beautiful and memorable moment, one that will stick with them and cause them to 5-star review and rave about the book.

So, let’s talk about how to create that effect in your book.

First off, not all books are built for the plot twist. It works best in mysteries and thrillers, though can exist in any sub-genre of fiction. I wouldn’t suggest you bending over backward to try and fit a plot twist in just for shock value – but if you have an idea for a plot twist, I hope this helps you execute it to maximum impact.

A great plot twist is all about how it is executed.

Here’s my breakdown of how to create and use a plot twist with maximum impact:

Timing: Figuring out WHEN to reveal the different parts of the twist is very important. Think about the clues you want to deliver to the reader and when you want to unveil them. While you’re at it, think about if you want to include any false clues that will keep the readers off the trail and guessing.

Buildup: It’s no fun to just throw a surprise into a reader’s lap without any buildup. While you might get a quick gasp of surprise, it won’t stick in their mind or have the maximum impact. Instead, try to layer in foreshadowing and scenes that will elevate the impact of the reveal.

The misdirect: When you’re giving clues and building up to something – the reader is going to be on high alert and trying to figure out what is going on The best way to keep the reader off the right track is to give them a different, fake path to follow. If you can trick them into “figuring out” a secret that isn’t correct, then you can slip the real secret by them.

This isn’t as hard as it sounds.

Let’s say that the “big secret” is that Cinderella’s fairy godmother is actually sabotaging her chance to meet Prince Charming, under the guise of trying to help her.

Let’s think through the pieces of this.

Cinderella keeps experiencing roadblocks when trying to spend time with Prince Charming.
The reader (and Cinderella) begins to suspect the roadblocks are being intentionally caused.
The reader tries to figure out who is causing the problems.
The big reveal: the Fairy Godmother is the one causing the problems.

You want the reader to struggle with figuring out the truth, so you need different potential scenarios for them to consider. The obvious culprit is the evil stepsisters, but that is too obvious to be real, so you want to give them someone else to suspect. This could be Cinderella’s closest friend – or maybe the Prince’s bodyguard.

Alternative culprits/scenarios are often called “red herrings”, but I call them misdirects. The options above (the stepsisters, Cinderella’s friend, the bodyguard) are examples of a simple misdirect. Simple misdirects are effective and get the job done…

…but you can take things up a notch with a complex misdirect.

An example of a complex misdirect would be to use the entire “who is sabotaging Cinderella” mystery AS the misdirect. While the reader is distracted and focused on figuring out that mystery, the real plot twist is something else.

For example: Cinderella is secretly trying to kill Prince Charming and the roadblocks to keep her from meeting him are designed to keep him safe. So, the Fairy Godmother is actually the hero, and Cinderella is the villain.

A complex misdirect is much more satisfying, if you can properly engineer it. Not every plot allows for it, and I wouldn’t suggest forcing a complex misdirect into your story unless it makes sense.

I hope this helps you with your next plot twist, and hope it doesn’t spoil your future reading experiences. Once you are aware of and look for the misdirects, they are much easier to find (and not as much fun to read). Such is the pain of being an author!

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